“It is the worst possible decision you could make for your family,” is the phrase my parents heard from multiple people after sharing that they were taking their three young daughters and moving halfway across the world to become missionaries in another country. But God’s call on their life to “go and make disciples of all nations” had been a cry of both of their hearts since they were young, and they knew it was what they had to do. So what was the result? Was uprooting, leaving everything behind, and entering an unknown culture going to change the outlook of their family? Well, yes, but not in the way the naysayers said.
A little over 20 years later, I can confidently say that the decision my parents made to follow God’s call on their lives to go to the nations was the best decision they could ever make for our family. It was what molded me into the person I am today. When we lived overseas, I was a preteen—that time of life where you not only begin to remember the things you experience, but also begin to develop your self-identity, worldview, and passions. And that was the case for me. Being raised in a family with a missional mindset and living for a time on the mission field helped me experience a world outside my own, develop a passion for serving others, and motivate me to make the Great Commission my life’s focus.
A world outside my own
As a young child, I had seen pictures, heard stories, and even watched video clips of people in other countries. While those things helped me understand there was a world outside of the one I lived in, I wouldn’t say there was any true recognition of what that meant. Sure, I went to school with people of different ethnicities, but average “suburbia” in the 90s didn’t exactly lend itself to experiencing a culture outside of your own. But the moment I stepped out of the airport in our new home and experienced what this new place looked, sounded, smelled, and felt like, I knew right then and there that this was unlike anything I’d known before.
As a 10-year-old girl, the things I’d seen and read about had now come alive! My senses were heightened, and I took every bit of it in. My eyes saw people who looked different than me. I was the minority now. My ears heard the bustling groans and beeps of this major city, and in order to be heard, I needed to speak loudly. My nose smelled the scent of unknown foods, spices, and herbal medicines. (To this day, when I smell something similar, I can close my eyes and be taken back there.) My body felt the humid air that whipped off of the nearby sea, which was a bit miserable in the summer, but was comfortable in the winter.
The place my family served as missionaries was a hub for people from all over the world, so not only did I experience the culture of the place where we lived, but I also got to experience cultures of other countries. We were invited into people’s homes, ate food from their homeland, and also learned to abide by their customs.
We served at an international church, and I can remember services where we would have Scripture read in the varying languages that made up our congregation. So, when I would read Scriptures, such as verses in Psalms that talk about people from varying nations coming together before God and praising him, I was witnessing something quite similar, a vision of complete unity in Christ. I realized that the differences were what made each of us unique and special to the Creator who masterfully designed it all.
A passion for serving others
Prior to living overseas, my parents took me along for various mission trips and projects. Although I really don’t have authentic memories of taking part in these events, I know that serving others was something that was instilled in me during those years because it came naturally as I grew.
As a missionary kid on the field, I had the opportunity to serve others in various ways. One way I was able to serve was through my church. My very first church ministry “role” was given to me by the pastor of our international church. I was the Sunday School attendance taker. I was also able to serve through the girls mission group my mom started. While my mom taught the young girls, I led my peers. Eventually, our girls group was able to put hands and feet to our learning as we served at a welcome event to immigrants and passed out “blessing bags” that we packed from donations given by our fellow missionaries and church members.
A little over 20 years later, I can confidently say that the decision my parents made to follow God’s call on their lives to go to the nations was the best decision they could ever make for our family. It was what molded me into the person I am today.
So when I would read about how Jesus encouraged his followers to serve others and that when we did so, we were actually serving him (Matt. 25:35-40), I knew what it meant because I was living it. When walking the streets, we would pass beggars and at times provide them sustenance. When a friend’s unbelieving relative was in the hospital, we would go visit them. And when immigrants arrived as strangers into our city, we welcomed them.
I knew I was an ambassador for Jesus; in serving others, I reflected him. From then on, I never looked at serving others as something that was a requirement or that I had to do because my family was doing it. Rather, I saw and continue to see it as a blessing and an honor that I get to represent Jesus by serving others and thereby serve him.
A Great Commission focus
The spiritual, global, and missional awareness I experienced during these pivotal years of my life most definitely provided me with a Great Commission focus, one that increased when I returned to the States. When I returned, I was shocked to discover there were people who honestly did not care about what I had done and experienced. They made fun of people from other cultures; they only cared about serving themselves; and church seemed to be the place you went to fellowship, not to listen to God’s Word and understand terms like “the Great Commission.” I now know that this mindset is not really that unusual for the typical American teenager, but at the time, it was a devastating realization that took time to come to terms with.
Around the age of 16, I knew I had to dare to be different from my peers and help others grasp what living out the Great Commission really meant. As a teenager who didn’t really understand her own peers and vice versa, how would I go about doing that? By influencing the next generation. What began as a teenager being trained in how to teach children in children’s church, eventually developed into a young woman who was leading children’s missions education in her church and also throughout her state.
God has given me many amazing opportunities to influence the next generation in what it means to have a Great Commission focus. Today, there are children I taught who are now in college majoring in a career that they can use on the mission field. Once, I taught a child who decided to learn another language because she was certain God would send her to a country where they spoke that language. And there are multiple stories of children who would come back and share with me that they told their friends and classmates about Jesus.
God has even given me the opportunity to use my Great Commission-focused heart as a career path. I am able to serve Southern Baptists every day through my job. I do not say these things to boast in myself at all. I say these things to boast in Christ alone. He gave me the experience of living out the Great Commission, placed that focus in my heart, and used me as his vessel to encourage the same focus in the hearts of others.
Was moving our family halfway across the world to become missionaries the worst possible thing my parents did for our family? Not even close. It was quite the opposite. My life completely changed when I stepped off that airplane. And I wouldn’t fully understand the effect of it until many years later when I realized I am who I am today because my parents took Proverbs 22:6 to heart: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
In being raised with a missions mindset, some of which was experienced on the mission field, I grew up to realize that there is a world that is desperate to hear and know about the Savior who came to save them and that it’s our job as his followers to go, make disciples, teach, and baptize them (Matt. 28:19).
And the thing is, anyone can do this same thing for themselves or their family. Decide today to live and raise your family with a missional mindset and see the world outside of your home as a mission field. For some, your mission field might be your community. Get to know and be kind to your friends and neighbors from other countries and cultures. For others, a big city may be where God is calling you to serve. The crowds and noises may be crazy, but think about the unique ways you can serve people from all walks of life. For others, God may be prompting you to live in another country halfway across the world, making disciples in a land you have never heard of before. Will it be hard? Will people question you? Will life change? Yes. But when you live and raise your family with a missions mindset, the Lord will undoubtedly change you and those you minister to for his glory.
We encourage you to consider giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. You can help send even more Southern Baptists to the ends of the earth by making a year-end donation to the International Mission Board.